Robotic Moon Sniper’s Unexpected Descent: Japanese Lander Faces Power Struggle as Solar Panels Misaligned

TOKYO, Japan — Japan’s Moon Sniper mission, also known as the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM), encountered an unexpected setback during its descent to the lunar surface. The spacecraft landed with its solar panels facing the wrong direction due to an “anomaly,” according to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). This has resulted in the vehicle operating on limited battery power. The mission team is now hoping that the changing angle of the sun will restore power and allow the mission to continue.

Moon Sniper successfully reached its destination near a crater called Shioli, which is located about 200 miles south of the famous Sea of Tranquility where Apollo 11 landed. The small size of Shioli, coupled with its proximity to the larger Theophilus crater, makes it an interesting site for exploration. By studying the rocks excavated by the impact of Theophilus, researchers hope to gain insights into the lunar surface without the need for drilling.

Dr. Gordon Osinski, a professor of planetary geology at Western University, explained that craters like Shioli provide a window into the subsurface of a planetary body. He also highlighted the importance of studying the mineral olivine, which has been found in the area. Olivine is believed to originate from the moon’s mantle and has never been directly sampled before.

The Moon Sniper mission has already captured low-resolution images of its surroundings. If the lander regains power, it will be able to take more images and continue its mission. The landing site is close to where Apollo 16 touched down in 1972 and collected rock and soil samples. The data gathered from different geographic locations on the moon is crucial for scientists to interpret its geological history and formation.

The Sea of Nectar, a basin 210 miles in diameter, is the largest lunar feature near Shioli. It is one of the oldest basins on the near side of the moon. Traditionally, moon missions have targeted smooth areas like the Sea of Tranquility for landing. However, the Moon Sniper’s successful landing in a smaller and more varied terrain demonstrates advancements in landing capabilities.

Osinski explained that the moon’s basins, known as “seas” due to their darker hue, were once believed to be filled with water by ancient astronomers. However, samples brought back from previous missions revealed that these basins were created by massive lava flows. Osinski emphasized the importance of gathering data from different geographic locations on the moon to gain a comprehensive understanding of its geological history.

In addition to studying the moon’s surface, future missions are also targeting the south polar region for its geological interest and potential for resources such as water ice. If significant water ice deposits are found, it could significantly impact lunar exploration by providing water for astronauts to drink, oxygen for extraction, and hydrogen for rocket fuel. This would reduce costs and facilitate the establishment of lunar bases.

As the Moon Sniper’s mission hangs in the balance, scientists eagerly await the restoration of power to the spacecraft. The hope is that the changing angle of the sun will provide the much-needed energy to continue the mission and unlock new discoveries about the moon’s surface and history.